Ohio guns
Wikimedia Commons photo courtesy St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office.

A third hearing on a bill to remove the duty to retreat from a self-defense law was eventful and testy at times on Wednesday in its state Senate committee. 

Senate Bill 237 would expand the current law, often called the Castle Doctrine, which gives Ohio residents legal standing to use force to defend their home and vehicle.

The Government Oversight and Reform Committee heard additional proponent testimony on the bill, and also received several written statements.

Included in the testimony was Judi Phelps, the owner of a shooting range in Southeast Ohio, who teaches concealed carry and other firearms classes as part of her work. She said she also focuses on teaching women how and why to use firearms.

In her testimony and during lengthy exchanges with state Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, Phelps said her hope is eliminating a“duty to retreat” would empower gun owners. In particular, Phelps said women would benefit because “more often than not, we are physically smaller and weaker than our attacker,” thus requiring additional legal protection upon defending themselves using a firearm.

When Thomas asked about her safety training work, Phelps said culture wrongly leads women to believe they are equal and “it won’t happen to me.”

“Women are not equal, we will never be equal,” Phelps said.

Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, who is the primary sponsor of the bill, said there is a spectrum of fear when encountering dangerous situations depending on the person, suggesting that 1960s football star Dick Butkus might react or feel differently than someone else. 

Phelps also cited the recent shooting of Logan resident Natalie Nutter by her estranged husband as evidence of the need for the senate bill.

“In retrospect, had Natalie, and every other woman like her, been armed and trained and lawfully permitted to stand her ground against this, and any other type of evil, they might still be with us today,” Phelps said.

State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati.

Sen. Thomas, a former police officer, noted that members of law enforcement are specifically trained about the continuum of force — with serious situations leading to the killing of a threat.

“If you have that authority,” asked Phelps, “shouldn’t I?”

In describing her own safety training philosophy, Phelps said she trains people to “avoid, escape, defend.” Those put in a dangerous situation should immediately avoid the threat, escape if possible and defend using a weapon only if all other options are exhausted, she said.

Thomas asked how that training was incongruous with “duty to retreat,” which also calls for people to escape a dangerous situation if possible.

Phelps answered by saying the point of this legislation is for lawful gun owners to not have to think about legal ramifications in making a split-second decision that could save their lives.

“We don’t want them hesitating,” Phelps said of gun owners facing a crisis.

Phelps and another speaker criticized those present at the hearing from gun control advocates Moms Demand Action For Guns Sense.

“I’m sure they mean well,” the gun range owner said, “but what they’re really doing is harming women.”

Gary Witt was yet another member of Ohioans for Concealed Carry to speak in support of the measure. He called committee members’ attention to the legal action currently in the law, which allows a “perpetrator” to sue after being shot.

“To cause an individual the emotional toll and possible financial ruin that an individual must suffer after being involved in a legal self-defense action is to victimize the law-abiding citizen who was defending his life,” Witt told the committee.

Proponents testified on the bill at the last meeting of the Senate committee, held Dec. 3. Along with Ohioans for Concealed Carry, the organization Ohio Gun Owners and the Ohio chapter of the National Rifle Association also approve of the bill.

Opponent testimony has not been submitted as of yet.

SB 237 has the support of Senate President Larry Obhof, who is a cosponsor. Other sponsors include Andrew O. Brenner, R-Powell; Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction; Rob McColley, R-Napoleon; Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson; Michael Rulli, R-Salem; and Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster.

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.